Christopher Edley Jr. ’78, a civil rights expert and policy adviser to several presidents, who was a member of the Harvard Law School faculty for more than two decades before becoming dean of University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, died on May 10. He was 71.

“Chris Edley infused his brilliance and public interest commitments in his stellar career as a professor, policymaker, dean, and civil rights analyst and architect,” said Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard and former Harvard Law dean. “I was lucky to start teaching at Harvard the same day he did and to collaborate on projects. As we mourn him, there is comfort in knowing that his legacies are large.”

Edley joined the Harvard Law School faculty in 1981 as an assistant professor, becoming a professor in 1987, and serving on the faculty for 23 years. His academic work focused on administrative law, civil rights, and education.

“Chris was enthusiastic about everything he did, including being an enthusiastic friend,” said Todd Rakoff ’75, Byrne Professor of Administrative Law at Harvard. “We taught Administrative Law together for several years; Chris was wonderful at being able to cross over the boundary between legal doctrine and real-life behavior, and to come back again.”

“It was a privilege to know Chris Edley,” said William Alford ’77, Jerome A. and Joan L. Cohen Professor of Law at Harvard. “He was a great and generous colleague who made enormous contributions to public and academic life both, while keeping a healthy wry perspective on the quirks of each.”

During his time at Harvard Law, Edley co-founded the Civil Rights Project following a Supreme Court ruling in the mid-1990s that targeted race-conscious admissions.

Jocelyn Benson ’04, secretary of state of Michigan, who worked for Edley when she was a law student is one of the many students for whom he was a mentor.

“He welcomed me into the civil rights and voting rights legal community as a young law student, hiring me in my first year of law school to work with him on the passage of the Help America Vote Act and ultimately serve as the Voting Rights Policy Coordinator at his Civil Rights Project,” she wrote on X. “He taught me how to link a drive for justice and equality with real demonstrable impact, how to move beyond demands for action to getting things done.”

In 2004, Edley became dean at Berkley Law where he served for nine years before returning to teaching at the school. In 2016, he co-founded the Opportunity Institute, the Berkeley-based nonprofit organization that promotes social equity through education. He also oversaw Berkeley’s education school as an interim dean.

Erwin Chemerinsky ’78, current Berkely Law dean, said of his friend and Harvard Law classmate: “Chris led an exemplary life in academia and in public service.  He was a brilliant intellect and a charming person with a great sense of humor.  He made a huge difference in Berkeley Law and in every institution that he was a part of.  He really did transform Berkeley Law, especially in his support for public interest work, in getting a new building done, and creating many centers. I will miss him terribly.”

A graduate of Swarthmore College and the Harvard Kennedy School, as well as Harvard Law School, in addition to working in academe, Edley also had extensive policy experience, and served in several presidential administrations.

In the late 1970s, he worked for the White House domestic policy staff, focusing on issues such as food stamps, child welfare, and disability for President Jimmy Carter. More than ten years later, he served as associate director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton. He also held senior positions in five presidential campaigns, serving as policy director for Michael Dukakis ’60; and senior policy adviser for Al Gore, Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton, and his former student, Barack Obama ’91. In 1993, he was a senior economic adviser in the Clinton presidential transition, responsible for housing and regulation of financial institutions. In 2008, he was a board member for the Obama presidential transition with general responsibility for White House priorities in health care, education, and immigration.

Edley’s survivors include his wife, Maria Echaveste, and their children, Elias and Zara; as well as Christopher Edley III, his son from a previous marriage.

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